Hal Blaine is one of the most influential figures in rock and roll. Odds are he’s also someone you haven’t heard of—despite Blaine being born right here in Holyoke. Known as the world’s most recorded musician, Blaine’s signature drum beats are the back-bone to chart-topping hit after hit from the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and many others.
Blaine died on March 11 at 90 years old. But as Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman shows us, his legacy here in Western New England—and around the world—lives on.
This story originally aired on April 4, 2019.
Read the full transcript:
Monte Belmonte, WRSI: If it weren’t for Hal Blaine, there would be no Wall of Sound. His thunderous, you know, drumming approach.
Jonny Memphis, Former WRSI DJ / Music Journalist: One of the most important things about him was, he was the guy that really pulled back the curtain on the music industry.
David Sokol, Former Valley Advocate Music Editor: The breadth of music that he recorded on over the years is just, it’s staggering.
Monte Belmonte: I think he defined early rock-n-roll, for sure, on the drums.
David Sokol: Well, Hal Blaine was, I mean, one of the reasons that I first kind of was interested in him was when I found out that he spent the first seven years of his life in Holyoke.
Monte Belmonte: So, you’ve got this tiny window of time in the early 60s before the Beatles hit and take over the airwaves and change how rock and roll is done forever.
Hal Blaine, as a studio musician, a hired gun, with a bunch of other hired guns that they colloquially refer to themselves, as The Wrecking Crew.
Jonny Memphis: People just kind of assume that somehow Simon and Garfunkel’s band or, you know, all the Beach Boys were playing on all those things, and then it was revealed that no, it’s actually this guy from Holyoke, Hal Blaine and a bunch of his talented buddies out in L.A. laying down these perfect tracks.
And it made you kind of realize how music is made.
Monte Belmonte: So, let’s say you’re the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson is a genius musical writer, but that Dennis Wilson is not a great drummer.
Jonny Memphis: Handsome surfer, cool guy in the back and you’re like, “Oh, who was it?”
And it’s this guy, Harold Belsky from Holyoke, you know, Hal Blaine.
David Sokol: Of the beginning of that song, that drum head is just like, it’s so iconic. You know, whether he came up with it or whether Brian came up with it, I don’t know. But he’s there.
So, when you listen to those songs, it’s like, “that’s Hal!”
Jonny Memphis: It just was an eye opener for people about, you know, the way things are done and also that who’s this guy? Hal Blaine.
Monte Belmonte: Hal Blaine actually had a rubber stamp made that said, “Hal Blaine strikes again!”
So, he would stamp the score of music that he had with his rubber stamp and like stamp the wall of the studio, “Hal Blaine strikes again!”
And other studio musicians in that era would say, “No matter what studio I ever went to to perform, I saw the stamp ‘Hal Blaine strikes again!'”
Jonny Memphis: So, it’s 1991, it’s Holyoke Community College, and I see that Hal Blaine’s coming. And I know enough at that point that, “wow, he’s that great studio drummer who played on like six number one hits in a row.”
David Sokol: I’ll never forget, like, you know him doing the “Be My Baby” thing that he played on the Ronettes song. It was just like, it’s like this guy invented this. It’s like, this is where it came from.
And watching him play with this band of really good area musicians, some of those songs that, you know, became classics. It was just staggering.
Looking back on it, and thinking about, it was like 350 songs that reached the top 10. I’ve listened to a lot of those records many, many, many times. But I think after he passed away, played some of them again and I said, it just…they just sounded different to me. They just sounded bigger, you know?
They weren’t — those drums parts were just really, I mean, they were just perfect for what he was doing.
Monte Belmonte: Every little kid who’s learning the drums right now and is doing de de de de de de de de de de de de de de dah! on their trap kit, they’re, you know, that’s Hal Blaine, who is doing that first and foremost in rock-n-roll.
Jonny Memphis: I think it’s always about the song, and that’s what he got, and you know that music is a team sport, you know. And you have to play together and support the song and the singer.
And it doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything as a drummer, but it’s really keeping the groove. And then we’re where it needs a little something, then you put in a little something.
David Sokol: His talent was just remarkable and his ability. I mean, I can’t get over saying just how he worked in service of the music.